HOUSTON – Bazu Worku held up three fingers as he headed down the final stretch of the Houston Marathon.
Worku, trailing Ethiopian countryman Yitayal Atnafu by 23 seconds with about two miles left, turned on the jets Sunday to win the event for the third straight time.
“Yitayal, my competitor, we train together,” Worku said through a translator. “I know that he is a very strong person and trains very well . When he put so much into his pace after 25 kilometers, then I realized he cannot finish with that pace. Then I applied my strategy.”
Biruktayit Degefa won the women’s race and two-time Olympian Molly Huddle broke the record for the fastest half-marathon by an American woman.
It was 34 degrees for the start of the race and Worku won with a time of 2 hours, 8 minutes, 30 seconds. With victories in 2013 and 2014, he became the third runner to win the race three times, joining David Cheruiyot of Kenya and Stephen Ndungu of Ethiopia.
“It was exhilarating,” Worku said.
This is the third straight year Atnafu finished second at the Houston Marathon.
Degefa captured her second women’s title at the Houston Marathon, finishing with a time of 2:24:51. She has competed in this race five years in a row.
“When I come to Houston I feel a special joy,” Degefa said. “I consider Houston as my hometown. As if I’m coming to a family. These five years, I know Houston very well. I come very prepared and I knew I would win today.”
An Ethiopian runner has won the woman’s title for 12 straight years.
Huddle crossed the half-marathon finish line in 1:07:25. Her time, a personal best, broke the previous record by 9 seconds, set by Deena Kastor in 2006.
Jake Robertson of New Zealand won the men’s half-marathon in 1:00:01, tying a personal record. He finished 39 seconds off the race record.
“Since winning the race, everybody’s reminding me of the time, I get more and more upset with the time,” Robertson said with a laugh. “Thinking about the caliber of the field I beat today, I’m ecstatic still. It was amazing racing and the way I felt doing it.”
Ethiopia’s Ruti Aga won the women’s half-marathon in a personal-best 1:06:39, beating her previous mark of 1:08:07.
“I was happy that I achieved that, in the future I hope to do even better,” Aga said through a translator.
Huddle crossed in a personal-best 1:07:25, topping her previous mark of 1:07:41 in 2016. She broke the American record by nine seconds, a mark set by Deena Kastor in 2006.
“Just to be in the company of Deena Kastor, who had such a great marathon career, gives me a lot of confidence,” Huddle said. “It’s a really special thing. I really think the women’s marathoners and half-marathoners in the (United States) are so good right now, I still don’t feel like that record is out of reach.”
“I moved it down a little bit but I still think there’s a couple of women that can gun for it,” she said.
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